One of the most haunting spaces in the prison — a pair of tiled chambers in the Hospital once used for the isolation and observation of mentally ill inmates — resonated with the sound of Tibetan and Native American chanting in this austere and moving installation. The Tibetan chant was a Buddhist ceremony for the goddess Palden Lhamo, protectress of Tibet; it was recorded at the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India, a monastery historically associated with the Dalai Lama. The Hopi music came from a traditional Eagle Dance invoking the bird’s healing powers. Hopi men were among the first prisoners of conscience on Alcatraz, held for refusing to send their children to government boarding schools in the late 19th century. (For information about Hopi prisoners on Alcatraz, visit the National Park Service website.)
Drawing pointed parallels between China and the United States, the work paid homage to people who have resisted cultural and political repression — whether Tibetan monks, Hopi prisoners, or the Indians of All Tribes who occupied Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971. The placement of the chants in the psychiatric observation rooms suggested an unexpected analogy: like subjugated peoples, those who have been classified as mentally ill have often been dismissed, deprived of rights, confined, and observed. Under the severe circumstances of incarceration, chanting could serve as a source of emotional comfort, spiritual strength, and cultural identity.
- Installation Views
Ai Weiwei is a Beijing-based artist and activist whose work encompasses sculpture, installation, photography, film, architecture, curation, and social criticism. His art has been featured in major solo exhibitions including Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, UK, 2014; Evidence at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 2014; and Ai Weiwei: According to What?, which was organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in 2009, and traveled to North American venues in 2013–14. Ai collaborated with architects Herzog & de Meuron on the “bird’s nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2015.